Honda is launching an all-new brand-within-a-brand called TrailSport, taking a lead from competitors like Subaru and Ford, in a bid to win over buyers who want more rugged, off-road capabilities than what today’s typical “soft-roaders” can deliver.
While the Japanese automaker isn’t revealing which models will be offered with the new TrailSport badge, it said they’ll feature increased ground clearance, underbody protection and, among other things, suspensions tuned for off-road driving.
“TrailSport represents the next chapter in our rugged direction and will bring exclusive styling to our existing light trucks that will appeal to buyers seeking adventure,” said Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations at American Honda. “Our U.S. engineering team is leveraging more than 20 years of experience creating highly capable light trucks to develop this new series of adventure-ready vehicles.”
Americans by the millions have migrated from conventional passenger cars to SUVs and other light trucks. But, since that switch began in the late 1980s, automakers have shifted from classic, body-on-frame products to more and more car-like crossovers. In the process, they’ve given up some of the capabilities early SUVs, in particular, were known for.
That didn’t matter much to most drivers, considering they were likely never to experience anything more than a gravel or dirt road.
The last several years have brought a slow but growing rebound in consumer tastes, however, accelerated by the pandemic. More and more buyers are looking for vehicles with at least moderate off-road capabilities. That has resulted in record sales for products from rugged brands like Jeep and Land Rover. Ford, meanwhile, appears to have scored big with the revival of its old Bronco badge – the Detroit automaker turning that into an entirely new sub-brand.
Ford has been ruggedizing other models, Explorer adding the Wilderness trim. And Hyundai added the XRT package with the newly redesigned Santa Fe. Toyota is emphasizing ruggedness with its TRD models, and Subaru last week lifted the covers on the second model in its own sub-brand, the Forester Wilderness.
Honda, for its part, tested the waters with the return of the Passport. While it retains a unibody design, it offers the ability to handle much rougher terrain than the brand’s typical crossover.
Now, models wearing the TrailSport brand will take things a step further. Though Honda hasn’t said which products will be included, the Ridgeline pickup and Passport are considered the most likely. That SUV already rides an inch higher than the Honda Pilot and, to enhance its off-road capabilities, was given a four-mode control that can instantly adapt key vehicle functions for conditions like snow, sand or mud and ruts.
“When the first TrailSport editions arrive at dealers later this year, they will further advance the new rugged design direction of Honda truck products and become the halo for the off-road capability, versatility and durability that has long been engineered into them,” the automaker said in a statement today. Also on the list, Honda’s i-VTM4 torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system.
More rugged, but no less comfortable
As with many of the other newly ruggedized products, Honda makes it clear it won’t return to the old days when handling a trail translated into a seriously unpleasant ride on-road. The TrailSport models, it claims, won’t be “sacrificing comfort or best-in-class on-road dynamics.”
Expect the TrailSport models also to carry most, or all, of the same interior features, such as navigation, infotainment and plenty of USB ports. That said, they might trade off leather seats for fabrics and materials that allow easier clean-up after a day wandering the back woods. The first Honda TrailSport models will reach showrooms later this year.